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Schools will continue to use much of the technology acquired during distance learning

COURTESY PHOTO: THOMAS PARK ON UNSPLASH    - Starting in kindergarten, Estacada students use a laptop or iPad to supplement their learning.

When Estacada schools switched from comprehensive distance to hybrid learning in early 2021, many secondary classrooms had "Zoom rooms," or large television screens where the students who were learning remotely for the day could log in from their home computers and be part of the class.

As the Estacada School District begins the 2021-22 school year with full in-person learning, the technology acquired during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in classrooms to give students additional options for accessing their academics.

Mike Waer, operations director for the Estacada School District, estimated that there are approximately 40 classrooms in the middle and high school buildings with Zoom room technology — television screens, cameras and microphones.

"When we were in hybrid (learning), our virtual students could learn alongside their peers in the classroom," he said. "As we go into this next year, we want to continue to utilize that technology. We'll be in-person, but there might be certain cases where a student would be virtual."

As outlined in the Estacada School District's Return to School plan, students who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine and come into close contact with someone who is diagnosed with the virus will be required to quarantine for 10 days. The Zoom rooms will help them learn remotely during this period.

Waer also noted that the district's wireless systems were updated and strengthened with funds from the state during the previous school year. Additional access points also were installed.

"With the Zoom rooms, and students being one-to-one with a Chromebook or iPad, it was stressing our wireless infrastructure," he said.

Though the district's Zoom rooms were mainly located at the secondary level, beginning in kindergarten, each student receives an iPad or Chromebook to help with their learning. Wear noted that Zoom rooms are in an "exploration phase" at the lower grade levels.

One additional area where this technology may have another impact is snow days.

Though closures for snow are accounted for in this year's school calendar, Waer said the increased use of technology may allow for virtual learning while buildings are closed for inclement weather. This will depend on other factors, such as whether or not students have power at home.

"Students are able to access their learning from anywhere — not just because of COVID, but maybe they're traveling or at home for the day," Waer said.

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